Childlike Wonder vs. Utility

I’m reading a wonderful book by Albert Haase, OFM, titled Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Way of the Disciple.  As the title suggests, Hasse’s encouragement – and challenge – is that we live the Lord’s Prayer, and not merely recite it.

Hasse presents a way of thinking about the sin of Adam and Even in a way different from the way we usually think of it.  He writes

The wise stewards of Eden, Adam and Eve, tended [the] garden with wonder and awe.  And they saw their Creator reflected in this divine handiwork.

But the moment Adam and Eve looked on that offered fruit with the eyes of desire, devoid of original awe, everything changed: “the woman saw that the tree was … to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).  They now looked at creation with self-centered concerns, observing its elements as threads for a tapestry, no longer threads of a tapestry.

Utility replaced childlike wonder.  The mind supplanted the heart.  Many descendents of Adam and Eve to this day do not see a tree until they have need of paper.

Haase acknowledges that our “utilitarian and pragmatic approach to nature has performed miracles” – irrigation, medical science and the like.

But ask yourself, what difference it would make to view the world God has given us with wonder and awe, as a reflection of God, rather than just ask what it can give us.  And then ask if it wouldn’t be worth attempting to rediscover the original relationship to the things of creation.


The Real World

Yesterday afternoon finished directing at an 8-day retreat at the Loyola on the Potomac Jesuit Retreat House.  It was a blessed time for the retreatants and I come away from these experiences enormously grateful at the privilege of seeing how God works in each person I sit with.

As did the retreatants, I left the retreat house yesterday, in my case to fly to Knoxville to help my daughter who is packing for a move.  Does that put me back into “the real world.”

I read the other day the following from N. Gordon Cosby, Seized by the Power of a Great Affection, that suggests the answer to that question is NO.

Often, as we conclude a retreat at Dayspring, someone will say: This has been powerful. I hope I can hold onto it back in the real world.” But the “real world” is not the one to which we are going. We return to the “unreal” world where the culture is distorted and trapped in pretense. The “real” world is the one we were just in, where our hearts were opened and we gave inner consent to rest in God.

I trust that our retreat experiences give us the ability to bring the “real” world back into the world we inhabit day to day.

On a separate note, since this was my first experience at Loyola on the Potomac, I thought I would share some pictures of the chapel and grounds.

Storing Treasures

In the opening line of today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples, “Do  not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”

When I hear that line, I can’t help but think of the fact that throughout the United States there are some 44,000-52,000 storage facilities (facilities not units) and that the self-storage sector is one that now makes $38 billion a year.  Almost ten percent of American households rent a self-storage unit.

One has to at least pause when one looks at those two previous paragraphs together.

It is one thing to recognize that there are some important items that we don’t use every day but that we want to hold on to.  Family photos and important documents come to mind.  But furniture that doesn’t fit into our homes?  Appliances we obviously don’t use or they wouldn’t be in storage?  Artwork we no longer want on our walls?

And I’m not talking about temporarily storing belongings in between moves or during a home renovation or while one is on temporary assignment abroad.  Those (and perhaps other factual situations like that) are understandable.  But having so much more than we can use that we pay money to keep those goods elsewhere, for years – that is what one has to wonder about.

Jesus instruction, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” at a minimum invites us to spend some time reflecting on our patterns of accumulation of goods.


A Tiny Whispering Sound

Today’s first Mass reading was a perfect one for the final Mass of the Ignatian Colleagues Program retreat I’ve been on the directing team for this week.  Elijah is told to go and stand on the mountain and the Lord will be passing by.  Then we read

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Fr. Jack Trealor reminded the retreatants as they leave here of how important it is that they find a way to incorporate some silence in their lives.  It is easy to hear God at a retreat house, where for the most part the only sounds are birds and water lapping on the shore of Lake Winnebago.  But making space to hear God in a world that is filled with noise – internal as well as external – takes intentionality.

It has been a wonderful week here.  I am always deeply moved by seeing how much God can accomplish with the retreatants in such a short period of time.  I pray as they leave here tomorrow morning that they can bring some of the silence of this place home with them.

How We Live, Not What We Force

I am reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wonderful book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.  I could write a month of posts based simply on reflections prompted by what he has written.

Today, however, let me share this one simple observation Rabbi Sacks makes in talking about Abraham.

Abraham does not seek to impose his views on others.  Yet his contemporaries sense that there is something special, Godly, about him.  Melchizedek, king of Salem, salutes him with the words, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’ (14:19).  The Hittites say to him, ‘You are a prince of God among us’ (23:6).  Abraham impresses his contemporaries by the way he lives, not by the way he forces, or even urges, others to live.  He seeks to be true to his faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.  That seems to me a truth for the twenty-first century.

Abraham and his relationship to God provides inspiration for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  But, as Rabbi Sacks goes on to remind us “all who embrace Abraham must aspire to live like Abraham.”  And living like Abraham requires being “open to the divine presence wherever it reveals itself” and “never [believing] that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. God is larger than any nation, language, culture or creed.  He lives within our group, but he also lives beyond.”

What Does Offering Hospitality Look Like?

Yesterday afternoon I gave the reflection on the readings at Mass here at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, where I am one of the directors on an Ignatian Colleagues Program retreat.

The reading that prompted my reflection was from the first book of Kings, where Elijah travels to Zarapeth and asks a widow for a cupful of water.  Here is Elijah, showing up after traveling from the cave in which he has been hiding – I imagine him hungry, thirsty and probably looking a bit worse for the wear after his trek.

When Elijah asks for water, the widow doesn’t run from him in fright.  She doesn’t turn up her nose in disgust at his appearance.  She doesn’t tell him to get his own water. She doesn’t say the water is only for the good people of the town.

She brings him water.  And then she feeds him.

Hospitality is about welcoming everyone.  The Jewish people are constantly told in the Hebrew scripture to welcome the stranger; that just as they were once sojourners in a foreign land, so they should care for the sojourners among them.  Jesus took up the same theme in the judgment passage in Matthew 25 – “when I was a stranger you welcomed me.”

In my reflection, I talked about some of my own experiences of what the offer of hospitality looks like, and encouraged folks to consider what does it mean to offer hospitality – for each of them as individuals, for the universities of which they are a part, for their faith communities, and for our country.

It seems pretty clear to me what hospitality doesn’t look like:

It doesn’t look like separating young children from their parents at the border and putting the children into cages.

It doesn’t look like Attorney General Sessions announcing that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence will no longer qualify for asylum.

It doesn’t look like order guards destroying bottles of water left for migrants in the desert.  (To be clear re these last examples, I am not saying US immigration laws wouldn’t benefit from some systematic reform, but these actions are not that.)

Hospitality doesn’t look like Islamophobia or anti-semitism – both of which are on the rise in the US.

And hospitality doesn’t look like accosting random people who are not white on the streets and telling them that they should go back to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

How do we promote a spirit of hospitality?  Individually and communally.


I Heard My Father Call My Name

Today’s Gospel is the familiar passage in Luke that we often refer to as Finding Jesus in the Temple.  Twelve-year old Jesus and his family have been in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  When the group from Nazareth begins to return home, Jesus is not among them.  When Mary and Joseph retrace their steps, the ultimately find him in the temple with the teachers.

In the typical translation, Jesus response to his parents’ when they tell him they have been looking for him with great anxiety is “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Louis Savary, in his book The New Spiritual Exercises, offers a different translation.  Savary reports that among the Aramaic- speaking people in Palestine, the phrase Jesus used would more accurately have been understood as “I heard my Father call my name, and how could I not respond.”   Savary goes on to say that that translation

Showed that Jesus’ reply to his parents was announcing three things: (1) the fact that, during the Passover time, Jesus had received his divine calling; (2) that he knows who his true Father is; and (3) that he has responded to his father’s call…  He had said “yes to that call, just as his mother had said “yes” to the divine call in her youth, and just as Joseph had said “yes” to the call he had received in a dream…

And, for Jesus, that yes changed everything: The next time we see him in the Gospels, he has the powerful experience of his father as he is baptized in the River Jordan.

Jesus heard the call of his father and he said yes.

When I read this passage, and when I reflect on Jesus’ response to his parents, I pray: let me always hear your voice and let me always respond as Jesus did.